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STIEG LARSSON: THE RETURN OF LISABETH SALANDER

Written by Ali Karim

On the first week of release - The Girl Who Played With Fire hit the  No. 1 position on the UK Hardcover Bestseller lists with Patricia Cornwell coming in at a second with Scarpetta. To celebrate – Shots Magazine present the following interviews which give insight into the Stieg Larsson phenomenon. This interview with Stieg Larsson’s father was recorded at The London Grosvenor on 3rd of October 2008 following ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ winning the Best International Thriller Award sponsored by ITV-3. The following interview with Erland Larsson was organised thanks to legendary publisher Christopher MacLehose and Mark Smith CEO of Quercus Publishing.

STIEG LARSSON 

AK       Can you tell us a little about Stieg Larsson when he was young, was he a reader? 

EL       Stieg’s mother and I were anxious that our children should read, you have company with books. When Stieg was 13 or 14 he read about ‘The Ring’. I have never read that book, but both my sons did in their early years. I think it is vital that you have the company of a book. But today children spend all their time on computers I am afraid. 

AK       Where do you think Stieg’s fascination for crime fiction came from? I noticed that Mikael Blomkvist always reads crime fiction. 

EL       Stieg’s mother and I both read crime novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, there were many others such as Mickey Spillane. I don’t feel we encouraged Stieg and his brother to read this kind of book, but maybe they did? 

AK       Maybe it was influenced by your own reading? 

EL       You maybe right as my wife and I were both big readers. 

AK       So where did Stieg’s interest in journalism spring from? 

EL       When he was 12 I read a novel he had written in a notebook. It was then that we gave him a typewriter. It was for his 13th birthday and I remember it was very expensive at the time. It was also very noisy, so we had to make space for him in the cellar. He would write in the cellar and come up for meals, but at least we could sleep at night. 

AK       When was it that he decided to make a living from writing, in journalism? 

EL       It was the Vietnam War. Steig was young and he leaned toward the left-wing and in Sweden at the time, every town in Sweden, every Saturday the young people would be marching shouting ‘Out of Vietnam!’ Stieg was one of them and he started writing about the Vietnam War. 

AK       I read his work first in Searchlight Magazine and wonder how did his fascination move from opposing the Vietnam War to fighting the extreme right-wing and neo-Nazi groups? 

EL       His grandfather was a communist and I worked with him in a factory, and soon I was a communist then. In those days, in that type of factory, you had to be a communist to survive. It was a dark place, like a Nazi-camp, but today the factory is good, but then it was a terrible place. Stieg was never a communist, his mother became a very well known social democrat. Maybe Stieg became fascinated with politics because we were a political family. 

AK       Did Stieg ever discuss his fiction writing with you? 

EL       To begin we discussed very much politics at the dinner table. When Stieg was 14 it was the first time I lost a discussion. He just had better arguments than his mother and I. The young learned to argue and put together their arguments during the Vietnam War time. He didn’t write fiction during these times, at least he didn’t discuss them with his mother and I then, it would be much later. I never saw any of them. 

AK       I read in the press that he wrote the Millennium books privately and didn’t tell anyone, is that right? 

EL       He did discuss the Millennium books with me, but I don’t know if he discussed them with anyone else. He told me about them, and sent me the manuscript for the first book and asked me for my opinion. I told him at the time that there was too much violence and sex in them. He told me that sex is selling. Then he sent me the second manuscript. 

AK       And you saw his talent? 

EL       Hey, I saw his talent when he was a boy that is why we bought him the typewriter. Two more years he continued writing the Millennium books but all the time he was working to expose the dangers of the Nazi’s in our midst. He used to come to London often and speak to Scotland Yard, as well as in Germany and Sweden – even speaking to Ministers and politicians.  

AK       Have you any idea where he crafted his characters such as Blomkvist and Salander? 

EL       He met all kinds of people, he was very social, he could befriend everybody. 

AK       So his characters are a mixture of everyone he’s met? 

Erland Larsson glances at Christopher MacLehose and whispers “Can I tell Ali about Terese?” Christopher nods and says, “Yes, please do.” 

EL      Lisbeth Salander is a little mixture of his neice. Yes his niece Terese had anorexia nervosa, and she has a tattoo. Stieg and Terese meant a lot to each other, they were very close, they used to visit each other a great deal. When Terese used to go to Stockholm, she’d visit Stieg and they used to socialize on the computers. When there was a crash on Terese’s computer recently we lost all their email correspondence which is sad. 

AK       So was Terese, like Salander, a computer expert? 

EL       Terese helps me when I have a problem on my computer. She’s a little dyslexic but she manages in her job well and can read, works hard, but she fights for her existence if you understand. Once in a Swedish newspaper they made a big story saying Terese is actually Salander, but in reality Salander is a mix of people, but it is good for Terese….. laughing and smiling…. 

AK       Salander is a terrific character, were you and the family surprised at the success of the Millennium books? 

EL       Of course, the editors told me that they sell in the millions. So many copies everywhere, but once you see the books all over bookshops, so of course it is surprising. 

AK       And are you surprised at how popular the Millennium books are outside of Sweden?

 

At this point Erland Larsson pauses and smiles at both Christopher MacLehose and I

 

EL       Not anymore….. 

AK       Very good answer! 

EL       Try to see it from my point of view, I thought it was wonderful when the editors wanted to publish them, then I thought it was wonderful seeing the books selling so well. And then I thought it was wonderful that film people wanted to make them into movies. So now nothing about Stieg’s books surprise me. 

AK       There are three volumes that Christopher’s imprint MacLehose Press are publishing into English.  How much truth is there in the rumour that there is a fourth volume? 

EL       When Stieg died, actually he was already dead, when they called me from Stockholm and I went to the hospital heartbroken. Then we go home to Stieg’s apartment, and his Partner, Eva and there I found about 250 pages of a manuscript for the fourth book. 

AK       Has anyone read it? 

EL       Of course. 

AK       So are there any plans for it? 

EL       No, we have the rights, but there are problems as Eva has the manuscript and she does not wish to share it. In fact there are family problems, she won’t talk to us. 

AK       Finally how did you feel standing here in London accepting the award for best international thriller novel on behalf of your son? 

Erland Larsson’s tired eyes stare into my own, and then he looks down at the floor, then he stares at Christopher MacLehose and I see his eyes mist. He utters one word only, which will conclude our discussion about his late son’s work. 

EL       Proud. 

AK       Thank you for your time, your son’s work means a great deal to mean and many millions of readers throughout the world.

 

Then as Erland takes a drink I turn to Christopher MacLehose, his son’s British publisher and turn the microphone toward one of the legends in Publishing and a champion of translated fiction.

 

Following from my talk with Erland Larsson, father of the late Stieg Larsson after he accepted the ITV-3 International Thriller Award for ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’, I managed to gain further insight from one of the world’s legendary Publishers – Christopher MacLehose. I wanted to understand how Larsson’s work came to the English language so who better to ask than his British Publisher.

 

AK       Christopher, how did you discover Stieg Larsson’s work? 

CM      The English translation of all three volumes of the Millennium trilogy came from Norstedts, the Swedish publisher via a very experienced American translator who was asked to translate all three books for a film company [by Norstedts] which he did in the remarkable time of 11 months. 

AK       All three volumes? 

CM      Yes, he translated all three volumes in 11 months which was an astonishing achievement. But it needed a certain amount of editorial work inevitably, but as he was now involved in another project he didn’t have time to do this. It should be said that it came to me many months after the translator had finished it. Why? Because it went to 5, 6, 7 British publishing houses, and then 5, 6, 7 American publishing houses – and they all said no.  

Why? Because it needed [inevitably] a great deal of editorial work, but also because there was this feeling of ‘What can you do commercially with a writer who has died; what can you do?’. You can’t create an author who has died. This I felt was ludicrous. I will bet with you that 80% of those who received the original translated manuscript, and said no, didn’t read it because the author was dead. The translator himself sent it out to American publishers but faced the reaction ‘Come on, what can we do with this? We haven’t got an author!’ Well it is a tragedy in one sense, not that Stieg Larrson would have seen his work published in English nor seen it [Vol I “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”] reach number #4 in the New York Times bestseller lists. This is an astonishing achievement for a translated novel. Incidentally Knopf who published it in the US, did so brilliantly and as you know it reached No.1 in Catalonia, and so forth, and all over Europe. I’m frankly only grateful it came to us in the form that it did; needing a certain degree of editorial work otherwise it would have been bought by somebody else. 

AK       Can you tell us what in your opinion makes these books, employing a much over-used term, unique? 

CM      Salander, no question. Because Mikhael Blomkvist – well I am very interested in what the film company make of the material, will they retain Salander as the main lead, or will they enhance Blomkvist and make them at the same level? My feeling is that people in all translations respond to the utter originality of Lisbeth Salander. No one’s seen anything quite like her. There was a time when people said James Bond was utterly original. 

AK       That’s an excellent comparison. 

CM      If the film makers get it right, Salander will leave James Bond in her wake. Salander is just so interesting and she’s much more intellectually stimulating than James Bond ever was. She is a woman of so many facets, aspects, the physical, the emotional, the history of her mental illness, where she stands in Swedish society, and her computer skills, her professional skills as an analyst. She is not a complete human-being because ofher emotional wreckage. She’s utterly fascinating. 

AK       “The Girl With Dragon Tattoo” was the first book to come from your MacLehose Press imprint at Quercus. Can you tell us how you are finding working with Quercus considering your publishing legacy? 

CM      Nothing will quite compare with my years at Harvill, as that was an imprint that was devoted to translation of pure literature, but we did publish Peter Hoeg, Henning Mankell, Fred Vargas and many others who are also considered as European crime writers. What I found in how publishing works in the way writers get their manuscripts to publishers, and find their way into bookshops and other languages in the world, well if you are working with a team like the Quercus team – of whom there is no one quite like them, they are young, work flat out all day, all night. I’ll tell you what it’s like, when I left the old Chatto and Windus and went to Collins who were then a tremendously vigourous young publishing house, I described it like free-falling downwards without a parachute. Working with Quercus is like getting out of the airplane and suddenly you are moving fast, very fast indeed and there is no parachute. 

AK       What other crime fiction delights have you from MacLehose Press? 

CM      Crime fiction, hmmmm I would indicate Death in Breslau by Marek Krajewski, the Polish crime writer who I consider to be one of the worlds most original crime writers. There are five books I hope publish by him. 

AK       Thank you for your time and insight. 

CM      And thank you for your enthusiasm. 

If you have yet to discover the work of Stieg Larsson, I implore you to do so at the first possible opportunity. As an antidote to escape the pervading economic gloom that surrounds us, there can be no better companion than that of Lisbeth Salander. 

Edited versions of these interviews first appeared at The Rap Sheet 


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Stieg Larsson



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